My sister forwarded a short documentary she knew I’d appreciate. Beauty Reboot: Finding Beauty in the Cancer Journey tells the story of 3 women in different stages of dealing with cancer. (At the end of this column, you can watch the short video.)
Remembering my struggle 12 (thank God!) years ago, I teared up on seeing it.
The film’s a collaboration between two beautiful, talented women, Lucia Gill and Sharon Blynn. Lucia’s a photographer; Sharon, a model, actor and activist. (She says “actorvist.”) They recognized that many women going through cancer feel down on themselves. Sharon understood it personally. Over 13 years ago she endured a 3-year battle of surgeries and chemo for stage 3C ovarian cancer.
Lucia and Sharon met at an acting class several years back. That’s when Lucia learned of Sharon’s health journey. Both would someday combine their artistic talents to make a positive difference.
As part of her Bald Is Beautiful movement, Sharon became an actor and model, in NYC and LA. She had been a marketing exec in the music biz. Long blonde hair, a la Joni Mitchell, was her trademark. She was what she calls “a hippie jazz chick.” Receiving her diagnosis at 28, Sharon faced losing her hair from chemo. Instead, she took charge, cut off her tresses and donated them to Wigs for Kids. Her pixie hairdo lasted a week before it began falling out. This time she arranged a head-shaving party. Friends and family took turns with the clippers.
The outcome? “What could have been traumatic was loving, fun and transformative.”
Recovering from cancer, Sharon reached out to others in treatment by continuing to shave her head. She created Bald Is Beautiful. (www.baldisbeautiful.org) Through it she does outreach work, public speaking, acting and modeling.
Strangers tell Sharon, “’I had your haircut once.’ That’s code for survivor,” she says. “I see myself as a one-woman army.” She encourages women to appreciate their own beauty inside and out. With or without hair. Healthy or sick. “Cancer patients don’t have a choice about needing treatment,” she says. “We do have a choice about how we deal with it emotionally.”
Lucia met husband Dillon Kiel 12 years ago. They were 18, performing in Romeo & Juliet. “Since age 10, I had a fantasy that one day I’d play opposite my true love,” she says. (It almost worked out that way. Dillon was Romeo; Lucia played Juliet’s mother.) Eventually they both left careers in acting. “It’s a hard life. You have to really love it.” Dillon became a real estate agent and D.J. They’ve been married for 3 years.
In 2007, Lucia became a portrait photographer. “I dabbled in wedding and family shots, but they didn’t make my heart sing,” she recalls. She took a class from well-known portrait photographer Sue Bryce, who she says reinvented glamour photography. “I was like: Wow! I have to do this. It’s not about taking pictures; it’s about creating art, capturing authentic beauty.”
Lucia’s aunt Amanda had fought cancer on and off for years. When her aunt got sick again, Lucia decided to do what she could to lift up cancer patients. Her idea: host a photo shoot for women struggling with physical changes and film the day for a documentary. Seeking a co-producer, she reconnected with Sharon on Facebook.
Sharon came up with the name “Beauty Reboot” to suggest that their subjects are recharging the beauty already within them. Lucia describes the experience as “a time to feel pampered and beautiful and to share their stories.”
They recruited a make-up artist, caterer and videographer who donated their time and expertise, as did stylist Elisa Blynn, Sharon’s twin sister. The shoot, in Santa Barbara, CA, took all day. The film features 3 gutsy women—Sharon (from NY) and Sandhya Radhakrishnan and Megan O’Neil from L.A.
A mother of 2 young boys, Lucia says, “Sharon already understood her beauty. Now Sandhya and Megan, both breast cancer patients, do, too. The film shows women they’re warriors not victims, deserving of love and enough just the way they are. If it helps change even one patient’s attitude, we’ve succeeded.”
“Beauty Reboot” is part of Lucia’s Warrior Woman Series of what she calls “passion projects.” She has since done a film on a transgender girl who won prom queen in her town and was embraced by her classmates. That doc will appear on her website soon.
(Thanks, Lucia and Sharon, for offering cancer patients a new perspective. And thanks for sharing your story.)